The Last Jedi

Maddd Science

One thing we can all agree on: The Last Jedi is easily the year's most entertaining movie when you factor in the sheer variety of opinions everyone had on it. I enjoyed it overall, and am seeing it for a second time today. I'll agree some of the criticisms are valid — the plotting felt a little shaggy — but it's not like the original trilogy was perfect either. Last Jedi functions as a coherent standalone film, which is getting tough to do in today's blockbuster environment.

Spoilers, btw, so stop reading if you care about that sort of thing. Also, I'm sticking a few end-of-year articles at the end of this letter, so keep reading if you care about that sort of thing.

Todd VanDerWerff really needs to stop writing such incisive articles, because I know I've already featured him two or three times in this newsletter, and I hate getting predictable. My 2018 resolution is to better regulate this newsletter's VanDerWerff intake. In the meantime, enjoy the most clear and balanced explanation of why Last Jedi was so controversial.

The “backlash” against Star Wars: The Last Jedi, explained
Todd VanDerWerff, Vox

Do you think that Rey’s journey in the film shows the slow dawning of her realization that she has agency in and of herself and doesn’t need it to be given to her (as I do), or do you think it silos her off in the middle of a plot that takes her movie from her?

Do you think that Luke Skywalker is an old man who learns a lesson about aging and wisdom, or a cranky cynic who never would have become what he is? Do you think the movie is optimistic about the future, or unable to compete with the wonders of the past?

What’s interesting about the critiques of The Last Jedi is how often, when you talk about them, many of the above criticisms fall away, and you’re left with a distinct philosophical difference between people who love the film’s insistence that the future can be better if we make it and those who don’t like the way it forces us to grapple with the sins of the past, with the way it argues the Rebellion might have won at the end of Return of the Jedi, but it largely upheld the status quo.

But if you want proof that the fans had some bad takes back during the original trilogy, check this out:

How Did Fans React to The Empire Strikes Back in 1980?
Kate Willaert, A Critical Hit!

There’s been speculation online about whether or not it’s true that Rey’s parents were really just nobody. I mean, Kylo Ren is a bad guy, he could have been lying. It turns out some fans were similarly skeptical about the revelation of Luke’s father.

The Last Jedi And The Problem With Fan Theories
Carly Lane, SYFY Wire

Some degree of fan speculation is normal regardless of which fandom you’re devoted to; a large part of fandom discourse revolves around discussing the story (known as “canon”) and delving more deeply into what happens.
[...] Speculation and conjecture have been a mainstay in not just Star Wars fandom but several other big fandoms over the years, like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. There’s nothing wrong with fan theories in principle, but problems arise when fans allow their predictions to dictate their expectations of what a property should conform to.

Lest I come down too hard on the superfans, here's an exceedingly nerdy take that I totally agree with, though perhaps not with the amount of energy required of a superfan.

The Most Breathtaking Moment in ‘The Last Jedi’ Is Also Its Greatest Threat to ‘Star Wars’ Lore
Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer

There’s an active discussion thread in a Star Wars roleplaying game Google Group (think Dungeons & Dragons, but with Star Wars) in which several devotees are lamenting how the Holdo precedent might ruin the game. “It just breaks so much about the Star Wars universe we already know about!” the original poster writes. Another responds, “If this was [a] possible technique it would have changed the entire tactical doctrine of naval warfare in the SW universe.”

Also of note: This review from The Atlantic and this one from Dresden Codak.

Here's the story of how a sci-fi author invented a TV show entirely to troll the haters and then turned it into a four-book series.

Casting Starfarers
Vonda N. McIntyre, Book View Cafe

A local sf convention had asked me to be on a panel about television science fiction. At first I was tempted to decline, because the panel always has the same structure: Somebody whips out a list of all the tv sf from the past 20 years and reads the titles and everybody agrees how terrible they all were. (Keep in mind that this panel was before some recent pretty good television sf came on.)

And then I thought, What if…

Sue Grafton Was a Master at Subverting the Detective Novel
Sarah Weinman, Vulture

Grafton hadn’t yet begun writing the final book in the series, which was to be published in August 2019 as Z Is for Zero. That leaves us with Grafton’s last published words, as always both “respectfully submitted” and sharply delivered by Kinsey: “I’m not saying justice is for sale, but if you have enough money, you can sometimes enjoy the benefits of a short-term lease.”

And as promised, since it's the end of the year, I have a few articles summing up the best of 2017's pop culture. Personally, my favorite film I saw in theaters this year was Get Out (last year's was Hell or High Water and the year before that was Fury Road, if you want more insight into my personal taste).

2017: The Year Movie Trailers Were Better Than Movies
Miles Klee, MEL Magazine

Now movie trailers are masterfully edited, an art in their own right, while the movies are sprawling, bloated messes that barely hang on to a narrative, let alone continuity. In many ways, to watch a trailer is to watch a more coherent if radically condensed version of the film. And why read the novel when the back cover blurbs tell you everything?

PW’s Most-Read Comics Stories of 2017
Staff, Publisher's Weekly

The New York Times’ elimination of its Graphic Novel Bestseller List, the continued growth of manga sales in North America, and the launch of JY, a new middle-grade graphic novel imprint at Yen Press, were among PW’s most popular articles about graphic novel publishing in 2017.

The weirdest pop culture of 2017
Staff, The Verge

Most of David Lynch and Marc Frost’s return to Twin Peaks featured former series protagonist Dale Cooper as a supernaturally lobotomized shell of his previous self, cooing at slot machines, repeating random noises, and making gotta-potty pain-faces until someone literally shows him how to pee. For hours on end. On a heavily hyped prestige series fans waited 25 years to see. This is some epic-level trolling. Imagine if Rian Johnson had subjected Star Wars fans to 14 straight hours of green-milk-smeared creepy-grinning weird hermit Luke. That’s basically what happened here.

And of course, the definitive list of 2017 film:

2017 films that center on a complicated relationship between two males who are 7 years apart with a scene where the main character watches through a window while the blonde supporting character gets out of a car.
George, Letterboxd

Next Week, on Maddd Science: Time Travel

Header image: "resistance is fuel," by Daniel Williams